First off, I wanted to share an upcoming event that The Partnership for Faith-Based Affordable Housing and Community Development will be hosting on Thursday.
On Thursday, May 19, from 2:00 to 3:30 the Partnership for Faith-Based Affordable Housing and Community Development will present "Before You Sign...", a workshop designed to help faith communities better understand the real estate development process. In the face of great financial pressures made more difficult by the COVID-19 pandemic, many houses of worship are considering selling or re-developing their property. In this workshop, we will cover the steps to take before pursuing a deal, and ways to advocate for the best possible outcome for you and your community when working through the development process."
Jason Labate, Partner, Goldstein Hall Attorneys at Law
The Reverend Dr. William Shillady, Executive Director, United Methodist City Society
The Reverend Dustin Wright, Pastor, Messiah Lutheran Church, Rotterdam
Willy Zambrano, Partner, Zambrano Architectural Design
The Reverend Peter Cook, Executive Director, New York State Council of Churches
Over the past two weeks, some faith communities throughout the United States have completed major renovations or new buildings. In Long Valley, New Jersey, the Romanian Orthodox Church opened a new building in a traditional wooden style from the Romanian region of Marmures. In Washington, DC, the temple of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints completed a significant renovation.
However, financing new renovations can often put faith-based organizations in a financially precarious position, and can find themselves in exploitative arrangements. The US Justice Department announced sentencing for three individuals who defrauded four churches and a real estate development company by misrepresenting the security of loan deposits to fund building repairs.
Faith properties often face difficult outcomes due to financial strain. Saving Places released its "Most Endangered Historic Places" list for 2022. This list includes several faith properties, including the Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma, Alabama, where severe termite damage has prevented the building from welcoming the congregation or visitors to the historic site. The Deborah Chapel, in Hartford, Connecticut, is a rare example of a 19th-century Jewish American funerary structure, is under threat of demolition after sitting empty since the 1990s.
Many congregations across the United States are grappling with their role in historic injustices. As the United States Department of the Interior releases its first report on the 408 boarding schools for Indigenous children operating from the early 19th century through 1969, many religious institutions, including Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, are conducting their own investigations. (Around half of these boarding schools were operated by faith-based organizations.) The Department of the Interior's report found over 500 recorded deaths and unmarked burial sites at over 50 schools.
Religious organizations are designing initiatives to better the health of their wider community. In the face of the escalating opioid epidemic, the Forward published an article about ways that Jewish communities can help, including initiatives like "Jeff's Place," which is a support group for people struggling with addiction. In addition, there is currently a blood shortage. New York's New Heaven New Earth Shincheonji Church organized a group blood donation to help alleviate some of the supply challenges.
Throughout the 20th century, racist redlining and restrictive zoning policies were drivers of racial segregation throughout the United States. Commonwealth Magazine looked at a new Massachusetts state law that aims to spur housing construction that may also advance racial justice goals through rezoning. Additionally, the Associated Press covered efforts in Rhode Island to institute reparations for families who lost their homes and were displaced during the mid-20th century's urban renewal programs, which razed Black neighborhoods to build expressways, which had significant impacts on generational wealth in the impacted neighborhoods
An article in the New York Times highlighted challenges some renters face when they are able to secure affordable housing in unaffordable cities and neighborhoods. One renter in Southampton, New York, must travel 30 minutes by car in order to purchase affordable groceries. Affordability is an issue that expands beyond housing alone, intersecting with food justice, transit, and labor issues.
Many urban planners point to accessory dwelling units as a solution for the housing affordability crisis. (ADUs are small-scale in-fill construction on existing lots, adding density to a neighborhood without significantly altering its "character," popular mostly in formerly single-family zoned neighborhoods.) However, most homeowners lack the capital and credit to finance the expensive construction of an ADU, though some options exist for affordable ADU construction.